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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  December 27, 2009 10:00pm-11:00pm EST

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what he finds is that all these individuals had such mammoth curiosity it consumed their imagination and brigade abilities, and that is what the special gifts they had brought to the world, so here is walter isaacson to talk about his book. [applause] >> thank you.
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>> henry lewis, was said to indulge in personality journalism. he said time magazine did not invent personality journalism. the bible did. that's how we tell stories and convey the moral lesson of our times. so as bash a bra said, i have always tried to be interested in creative people. in this town you know a whole lot of smart people -- i'm not
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sure this is working. >> it is. >> a whole lot of smart people, and you kind of realize after a while that smart people are a dime a dozen, and they don't often amount to much. what does matter is creative people, can think out of the box, come up with something new, and so in this book, i tried to look at very smart people and figure out how they had to have a moral center, how they had to think differently, how they had to be creative. for example, in 1905, all the smartest physicists in europe were trying to figure out why the speed of light seemed constant. sorry. there were a lot of people who were smarter than albert einstein in terms of their learning and their knowledge. his max plunk.
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they were all working on this problem. einstein was simply a third-class patent clerk working in the swiss patent office. but in his spare time, he realized that the speed of light is always constant, but as you try to catch up with the speed of light, time slows down for you. it was an amazing leap of the imagination, an act of creativity that was done by patent clerk and not by a professional scientist. it took them another five years before he got a job as an academic scientist because that's how long it took the rest of the scientific community to figure out this leap of the imagination. and so whether it's henry kissinger or hillary clinton or bill clinton or benjamin franklin ronald reagan, i have auld -- always tried to look at what made somebody stand out, what special characteristic that made them different from the people around them. i got inspired by the first real
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writer i ever knew, walter percy, and i hope his books are still here because i will tell you, i marvel at his philosophical agrees and his understated wit. everytime i pull down the well-thumbed copies of the movie goer or the last gentleman from my shelf. he was the uncle of my best friend, guy named tom cowen, so when we we are young we used to go over lake ponchatrain and party skiing, and nobody quite knew what uncle walter did. i wasn't to ask his daughter ann, what does your dad do and she said, well, he was doctor but he never practiced. that is why he was called dr. percenty. but he stayed at home and wrote. a few years later after "the movie goer" had become famous, i
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realized that being a writer was something you could actually do for a living, just like bag doctor or an engineer or a fisherman or anything else. so i said that really cool, and as barbara said, i was growing up in new orleans, and i started haunting the french quarter bars in which williams falkner and anderson and tennessee williams, and i would keep a corner table in the napoleon house. i was saved from that partly by journalism. i was able to get a time at the times pick pick ewan i realized i was addicted to store teling, and after thumbing through percy's novels and realizing, this is a real writer, he would
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put up with my earnest questions, and i sort of began to notice there were messages in his wonderful tails, a message in a bottle sort of thing, and they were philosophical messages, sometimes religious messages. and so i would ask him about the messages and the themes he would try to do, and he wouldn't talk about it. he said there were two types of people that came out of louisiana, preachers and story telers, and he said, for goodness sake, be a story telar. once again, the way the bible does it. it's the parts of the bible that works because there's wonderful stories that tell you the moral lessons in a subtle way. after all, it's one of the great leads of all-time, "in the beginning," and tells you the power of chronological story telling. so that's what dr. percy taught me, too, and so as a journalist,
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i was able to just tells' tales. my first day on the job i had to cover the murder of a small child. i was there with the police. this is the days before black berries and e-mails and everything else. so i went to the corner drug store, put in my dime and called the newspaper to dictate the story to the rewrite desk, and the rewrite guy was named billy, and after i dictated it, he said what did the parents say? i said, didn't talk to the panders. he said, go back in there and talk to the parents. i was appalled at that nos. but i got up my courage, knocked on the door, and i discovered the next lesson of writing, which is people want to talk, and i got invited in. they wanted to show me the albums. they kept talking on and on about how wonderful this little baby girl was.
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and as they did so, i realized that this is part of a transaction of both story teling and journalism, and at one point the woman touched me on the knee and said, i hope you don't mind me telling you all of this. i was reminded of that many years later. i was at "time," and woody hall len hat just gotten -- -- had just gotten into the trouble by dating mia farow's daughter, and there was a big scandal, and the phone rangy i was, and it was woody allen saying, could i come over. he wanted to give an interview. i went over to his apartment. just woody allen and myself sitting there, and woody allen wanted to talk. this is not what you would call a very good idea on his part, but he talked. he actually said something that became a pretty famous phrase. because i asked him, how could he do it? he said, well, the heart wants
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what it wants. that became one of the quotations that this scandal was known by. but he, too touched me on the knee halfway through, and said i hope you don't mind me telling you this, and i felt a bit like woody allen's psychiatrist. i thought, no. i actually get paid for this. the great lesson of journalism, one of the reasons we have narrative stories is that peek like to tell and work out the moral lessons in the stories. when i was working at the newspaper, i tried to prove -- i would pick a city, a town at random in southern louisiana, and show up and say, i'm going to find a story. at one point i went to the cajun country, and did a series of stories on the sugar cane
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workers. and i realized what a rich narrative tale it was. at this point i was still a -- i fear the story is too much with literary potential, but they were useful in getting me the next stage of my life. i had gone to college, and i had heard somebody, whose book i'm sure you have up front right now, a friend of mine, harry evans. he was then the young crusadinged did for of the sunday times of london, some of you know him now, his memoirs have just come out. and harry came to speak at my college, and he said that american journalists had gotten away from the narrative tradition of journalism, and without any pretense of humility, assent off my sugar cane -- i sent off my sugar cane stories and didn't hear anything.
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never heard anything back until about six months later. i got a telegram in my dorm. by the way, getting a telegram in your dorm back then was just as unusual as it is now. i had never gotten a telegram. it said, will hire on limited basis, and it was signed by somebody i never heard off, and finally i realizedit was an offer from the sun times of london. so i went over and found myself in london, and worked for the sunday times for a summer. it was there i met another of the characters i tell you about. a guy named david blundey. he was really thin, really tall, auld tightly coiled, so much so he looked like a figure in an animated cartoon character as he would sort of unfurl himself in
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various ways. i was sent by harry evans up to a town named dundee in scotland expect was under the theory that harry had, that since i was an american, i was like woodward and bernstein, who had become famous for uncovering watergate. this is not true because one thing about writing about people how i do, you do it because you tend to write people. this is great for writing biographies, it's really bad for being an investigative journalist, because you totally sympathize with whoever you're writing about. so i was up there in dundee, and there was the mayor, the provost, and i-under covered the story there was shenanigans and a mysterious murder, and i write the story, and harry is so baffled by it, he send david
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blundey to help report it with me. and i was kind of embarrassed. i had gotten to the airport, gone to the count tore get the car, presented my sunday times credentials, and i was told i wasn't old enough to rent a car. so i head been hitchhiking around without telling my editor i hadn't been able to rent a car. so blundee gets a car, and the clerk says, by the way, somebody is in your room? all of a sudden,blundey totally unfurls his great height, and assumes it's some thug, and he says, you take the elevator. i will take the stairs. the point totally eluded me. and i got there about the same time, barge into the room. david barges in. he was a chain smoker so he
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immediately collapsed and starts wheezing and this poor guy, who is a television repairman, there is in the room and scatters out with the tv still all in parts. but david taught me the notion of just getting out in the world. how important it was as a story-tell tore be there and meet people. was with him in belfast once at the europa hotel. it was a tuesday and there was a demonstration going on, street parade. the sunday times comes out once a week, on sunday. there's no reason to be covering a demonstration on a tuesday. but david said we had to get out there. i said, looked kind of dangerous. he said. no. no. he showed me, you get there and there's violence, bit but if you're a block or half block away, you're standing there watching, and you get the story. while we were out, bomb actually went off in the hotel near the bar where i was going to be content in signature.
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he said, let that -- where i was going to be sitting. he said, let that be a lesson to you. and david got shot by a sniper's bullet and killed while covering el salvador. so i never quite figured out the pull import of that less. you the stint on the sunday times helped me get a rhodes scholarship. i had would advantages, i came from louisiana, and they had to give awards to people from louisiana every now and then and secondly, had bylines in a british paper, and the people on the selection committee were overly impressed. and so i got the fellowship. i was shucking oysters at a bar
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across the street from felix's in new orleans at the time. it was kind of convenient because nobody at the oyster bar had any idea what a rhodes scholarship was, so i didn't get nervous. but on the panel was willy morris, who is a great southern writer. so i was totally intime date by him. i told that tale years later, and bill clinton said, you don't remember who else was on the panel? i was on your panel. i was the one who asked you about if you're in a boat and only three people -- one of those type of questions. bill clinton had an amazing, amazing memory. he was just a lawyer in little rock who had won and lost the race for congress. i didn't remember he was on the panel. but he really in certain ways has dogged me or his ghost has dogged me throughout my career.
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i go tot oxford, and i had one of the most amazing professors i ever had, my adviseer there guy named dr. pelchinsky, and he taught philosophy and politics, and early on he assigned know write a paper on how democratic tendency are reflected in authoritarian regimes. he said, this is not that good of a paper. i said, sorry, sir. he said, i'm going to give you a copy of a paper that somebody wrote a few years before you, and you may know who he is, and i had never heard of him. he said you're from louisiana, aren't you? i said, yes, sir. he said this person is from arkansas so you must know him. i musted a mid i -- admit i was
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annoyed enough at the time to say not only did it not know him but didn't know anyone from arkansas ever. i read the paper and it was called democracy in the soviet union by bill clinton. promptly forgot about it. years later i'm here in washington, the washington bureau, working at time magazine, national editor. i get a phone call from dr. pelchinsky. and he said people are calling me and want to interview me about -- for the washington post-about bill clinton. and i remembered bill clinton had been a student. said that's great. and he said should i give them that paper? i had forgotten about the paper. and i paused and said, oh, yeah, that paper. so i think quickly, democracy in russia, and remembering that paper, it was taken out of context and some of it was taken
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in context would not have been too good during that campaign in which republicans were already criticizing him for going to russia, and i realized this would derail his campaign, why russia is really a democracy, had come out. so i was hit with the moral dilemma die tell this nice, wonderful, sweet old professor, yes, give out that paper to any reporter. so finally i said, well, dr., i don't know what you should do, however, if it were my paper i would prefer that you ask me first. and so fortunately he says, yes, you're right, i'll ask clinton before i give it out. then i had another dilemma, which is i still thought i might have a copy of this paper and i was at time magazine and it would be a great scoop. so i call home to new orleans, get my dad on the phone, and i said, dad, can you go to the basement by the work chicago
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behind the table saw, there's a white chest of drawers, all my papers. go in there and see if you can find a paper by bill clinton. and dad says, sure, and i will call you back. and i said, no, no i'm going to hold on. he comes back quite upset, because even before katrina, -- he said the basement has flooded a few times and your mother threw out those papers. i was actually secretly relieved because i didn't know what i would do if i had a paper in my handthat would derail the candidacy of bill clinton. my wife and i went years later to see dr. pelchinsky in retirement, and he pulls out a scrapbook, and there's the paper. does anybody know who betsy wright was and she was in control of damage control. and there's a telegram that said -- that he got from her saying do not release paper.
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letter to follow. and i told him he should send the paper, which he did to the clinton library, because i believe those who are historians should at least have the right to that paper, even if journalists it was probably good idea not to. i eventually made me way back to new orleans, and the one thing that was going to take me away from the writing life, or the so-called writing life as my daughter put it, was when i got a call from a person in the british embassy -- the american embassy in london, gotten to know a lot of oxford students. he wanted to visit me at the swimming pool of the airport hilton hotel in new orleans. as most of you know, if you have heard of him, he was actually cia station chief. so he tried to talk me into coming into the cia.
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the conversation didn't go well because halfway through he said, of course, we don't want you to be a covert agent. we want you to be an analyst at headquarters. i and i had thought this -- you know, this dashing covert agent, and suddenly my hopes are dashed. oh, you want me to actually analyze papers in headquarters. fortunately that week there had been a senior editor at time magazine -- i don't think they were dog a whole lot. so they sent the senior editor on a trip around america because they decided they needed to find writers from, as they put it, out there to good to time magazine. this guy spent a whole year finding writers out there. fortunately he got to new orleans just when i had finished writing about the mayor's race we had back then, right after landrieu was retiring and i had been promoted from police hurricanes to city hall by this
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point. and with 12 people running for mayor of new orleans, it was wonderfully colorful race. in fact if you good down the street you will see ruth chris' stake house founded bay woman in new orleans. her husband was one of the 12 candidates for mayor and wore aa gorilla suit at every appearance, because his only plank was to get a gorilla for the zoo. and i went to every part of the city and said how will it go? and i went to every -- here's the order they're going to finish and here's the percentages. well, it turned out, partly out of luck and partly out of smarts off all these captains to be just right so they're touting this just as this guy is trying recruit people to good to time magazine. i went home, told my mother i
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was being asked to good to time magazine or the cia. she had strong points. i went to time magazine. right before i left i wrote my final column, right before the runoff of the mayor roz race. i had a new job, figured i new everything. was full of myself. i didn't go to every presink leader. i just wrote a column who would win. i got that wrong. and it taught me a lesson. when i finally got to time magazine, they bring me up to the 34th floor, because i was the only person from out there that they -- this guy had found. so they bring me up to see headley donovan, an adviser to president carter, a truly distinguished gentleman, and they -- two or threed it temperatures are there, including this guy, and i get menned to headley donovan in an office on the top of the time building slightly larger than this room, basically, this huge
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white carpeting as far as the eye can see, and headley donovan says in the rumbling voice saying, i'm so glad we found somebody from out there because everybody so far we seem to have hired seems to be from harvard and oxford. so i laugh. thinking he is making a joke. he says, where did you go to college? i laugh again. thinking, he is making a joke. all of a sudden, jason mcmanus, who brought me up nervously nudging me. i kind of said, harvard, but i made it sound like auburn, and actually from then on they never brought me to see headley donovan again, but i think he thought for the rest of the time i had gone to auburn. one of the things he trade to do because of that is when i became editor of time, it was true that you get isolated as a journalist, especially in -- so we used to get a greyhound bus and drive route 50 across
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america', stopping at pta meet examination -- meetings and town halls and rotary club breakfasts so people could get a sense for what was on people's mind. the last trip we took, we rented a boat in missouri and went down in new orleans. while i was at "time" is where i really got bitten by the motion of -- by the notion of covering people and also the possibility of writing books. otto friedrich was my editor. he was totally and always and constantly amused by himself. he would just walk around sort of smiling. and he wrote books on the side. i said, i get it. this is really cool. a weekly magazine so we can sit here and write books four days a week and write the article on
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friday. it's like college, you figure out the key to all things. and so i had been put on the reagan campaign in 1980. and i kind of noticed that at rallies we went to, on the fringes of the rallies, there were always these people handing out leaflets and pamphlets that talked about the establishment, and the elite, and the -- it was always the tri-lateral commission and the council or foreign relations and the east coast establishment with the rockefellers and everybody else was totally controlling everything. i was totally baffled by this, but one of my close friends who i had again to college with and was at time magazine, was evan thomas, and under the theory trait evan was an east coast preppy and i was just from louisiana, why understood it, i started asking him about the
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establishment. we decided, why don't we write a book about the east coast establishment. now, at first we were doing a book about the east coast establishment, but what i said about the russiaans, we decided to just pick six people who are at the core of what was supposedly the american establishment, and kevin and were in a house in sag harbor, and he is a morning person, i'm a late person so i would stay up until 5:00 a.m. sketching characters and then hand it over to him when he got up at 5:00 a.m., and then we would go to the beach in the afternoon. it was about six friends, and how they intersected in life and became part of the establishment. we brought it down the street to a woman who had been clay felkers secretary, and was becoming an agent, is now a
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superagent, and she said, well, now, i will bring you down the street to see alice mayhew, and we got through our pitch, and alice interrupted us and said, yes, yes, i always wanted to do that book and call it the wise men, and so it was. and that's how we wrote our first book in our 20s, about the wise men of the american political establishment. it was particularly interesting because mac bundy who we interviewed, somebody who was far too smart -- if he had been half as smart and twice as -- you know, wise, he would have been a great man, but he was little bit too smart. but macbundy said, there's no such thing as the establishment. sew went -- so he went down to the archives of the johnson library, and there's a wonderful memo from mac bundy that we
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start by saying, there's no such thing as the establishment. and then there's this memo that bundy had written, called, backing from the establishment. a memo from johnson about how you had to get the establishment on your side. and he said the key to these people is john mcchoy, and we should convene them together and dub them the wise men and they will do whatever we want. so that is the joy of the documents and the interviewing, which is the way a journalist tries to take on history. it was helpful when i did kissinger because when i looked at the documents they seemed rather misleading, and i headquarters if you work for henry, you write three versions for every memo. one is for the files and is totally untrue. one is for nixon and it has his slant, and one is for henry's personal files and that's the real story.
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so i asked dr. kissinger about this. he said, yes, if i had known now what know about the documents, i could never have written my dissertation using just documents. i now realize that documents have to be supplemented by talking to the real people. but kissinger was a true believer that it was people, that narrative tale told through people is important. he was once on a shuttle mission in 1974 between syria and israel, shuttling back and forth, and he said to people on his plane, when i was a professor i thought great forces shaped history. but now i see it up close, i see the importance of real people in the process. and so to me, it was looking at the personality of a kissinger, his detachment from the moral strands that underlie american
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foreign policy that made me want to write about him. he was not exactly thrilled with my book. the day he read it, right as it was coming out -- he got a review copy. i got seven letters in the space of maybe eight hours, like one an hour, hand-delivered to me at the time life building as henry kissinger, in a range, would dictate a letter saying, it's outrageous you would think i had less than total respect for girl -- gerald ford's intelligence, and the aide that brought them was jerry bremer, who became our vice viceroy in iraq. he told me that being the viceroy in iraq was only a little less difficult than being on henry kissinger's personal assistant.
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kissinger didn't speak to him for quite a while. he was furious. when i became editor of time, we invited for the 75th 75th anniversary all people who had been on the cover of time to come back to a party, and i was wondering where he would come into my office, and my assistant says, it's henry kissinger. i pick up the phone, he says, hello, walter. and my first reaction is, this is either henry kissinger or carter doing his kissinger act. so i can't fall for this. i have to not say anything. and kissinger said, even the hundred year war had to end at some point. i will come to your party. so, i think he knew that people and nations don't have any permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. that said, have aing gone through the process with dr. kissinger, i decided next time around to write about somebody who had been dead for 200 years, and that was
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dr. franklin. i wanted to write about the realism in america, because kissinger, for all of his, you know, controversy, was the greatest realist, real politic thinker in america, understanding balance of pour, understanding the forces and sphears of influence, not being caught up by sentimentality or emotionalism and just figure out national interest. the only person who has done that equally well is benjamin franklin, who was able to do the great american thing when american foreign policy works which is to weave in ideals with our interest, weave in realism with idealism, and so besides writing these wonderful tracks that franklin did when he built himself a printing necessary paris, he wrote tracks about liberty in america, trinitied the declaration of independence, and he also wrote memos to the
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french foreign minister, talking about the balance of power in europe, and why france and spain should come in on our side in the revolution, and it was a great triumph of realism. i also discovered that benjamin franklin was a wonderful scientist. totally interested in science. in fact he would have thought people were fill steens if they weren't interested in science. we think of him as some old dude playing with a it could in -- a kite in the rain, and it was one of the most important scientific experiments of the time, and electricity was the most important scientific theory of the period after newton's theory of gravity. and it occurred to me that people in our generation, who are not scientists, sometimes just flinch from science. we would be, what frankly calls the phili sty ns and we have friend who would never admit to
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not knowing the difference between hamlet and macbeth and not knowing the difference between a shakespeare play but they would happily brag about not knowing about the relativity theory. but science is just as interesting, we can all love it just like shakespeare, and i wanted to do it through a person, and so obviously i did it through albert einstein. my daughter in her wisdom -- i start with her wisdom in the book and end with it, although on my ride up here we were talk about what an idiot she is on a couple things. breaking the computer and losing things, that sort of the thing. but she was -- emerson said that all biography is auto biography, and i said that writing about franklin is like writing about
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an idealized version of myself. a printer, journalist, newspaper person, social networker, a striver, and i can relate to ben franklin, that urban entrepreneur who wanted to be part of a media world and so. so i said, betsy, what was i doing when i write about einstein? she said you're writing about your father. interesting. my father is an engineer, loves science, a secular jewish humanist, wonderful person, and just as einstein was his hero, my father has been my hero. so i said, yeah. that makes sense. okay, smarty pants, what about when i was writing about kissinger? well, dad, you were write about your dark side. all of my careers i have always been interested in technology and the role of technology. i was once -- and technology is
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changing the way we do narrative story-telling. paper is a wonderful technology for narrative. electronic media isn't great. you jump from link to link, gather information like a hunter and a gatherer, as opposed to sitting round the fireplace saying, let me make it a narrative. that's why i think in the future electronic media will always co-exist with paper. i think we will some day realize that paper is an awesomely good technology, and as much as we admire electronic ways of getting information, if we had been getting our information electronically for 400 years on screens, some latter day person came on and said i can take those beautiful pictures and put them on page and put it together and deliver it to your doorstep and you can take it into the
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backyard or the bathtub or the bus, you would say, wow, paper, a great new technology. it will replace the internet some day. i think we will be able to use digital and electronic technology to do all sorts of things. i hope my next book combines music and words and as your reading you will see things and they will come up from the page, but i also know that the narrative will always work better in book form. during the early 1990s, i was very involved at the beginning of the new media age. even before the in -- invention of the world wide web. we would take the magazine and not dump it on aol but we would make deals with aol and form social networks. and our journalism would be there and we would have chat
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rooms and discussions and bullet continueboards and that was a sense of community, and we got paid for it. aol would bid a million dollars to say, put your stuff on aol. couple pew serve would try to match it or go higher, and each year we were make money by creating communities online. then the world wide web came along, and in some ways it was bad. because a couple things happened. first of all, on the web we said, we're no longer in this garden of this online service. we can control everything. so we would take the entire magazine and just put it online. but we would let people drive by and surf by and read the magazine. we weren't creating a community. at the very most it was a comment section at the end of an article but they just came bi', read the magazine. reading the magazine and then moving on. so we lost the notion of community. the good thing is that's changed back. just in the past five years,
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social media, socialed inworking , youtube, twitter, facebook, my myspace, that motion of creating communities around content hat come back. and the other thing is we assumed that we would -- you would subscribe to it just like you did everything else. but as soon as we did it, "time," we created these banner ads, and suddenly people from madison avenue are making the walk to us with satchels of cash money saying we want to buy ads. so we decided to make it advertising only supported and not have sub transcription, and we thought by getting a whole lot of traffic we would be able to succeed with an advertising only model. one of our other great thoughts, if you're creating a publication
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solely for tides advertiseers, you're doing something economically defeat. you have to be beholden to your readers. we kept quoting that information wants to be free, and it also wants to be expensive bus there's until nothing more valuable than the right information in the information age. so i do think that's a great challenge, facing print, facing books, facing journalism, is how will the creators of content be paid? and i'm just not just talking about journalisms. they're on the second wave of being decimated. the people on the front lines are people who create music. in the digital age you can copy anything. music, story, some day even a book. and you can make hundreds of thousands of copies, the major
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alcost is virtually zero. this is not good as a business model for people who want to create content and get paid for it. for 300 year ever since the statue of anne was established in britain, people who created something, an idea, a piece of music, piece of art, a photograph, a journal, a book, if it got copied, they had the right to the profits from the copy. that's why we call it copyright. but in the digital age, that notion that you can create content and get paid for it in a digital realm has disappeared. if we're going to have another 300 years of people creating things, writing books, working for newspapers, harry evans, woodward and bernstein, then somehow or another we have to get back to the fact that these
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people are not just going to do its for the ego or fun. they have to pay the rent, put food on the table. we have to get back to a system, whether your a musician or writer, if people copy your work, you should make money for it. so, to me, i hope that i have had -- i know i have had a really good time with the writing life. i really hope that the next generation will also have that ability, with al the wonderful tools of the digital age and also the ability to make a good living at the so-called writing life. thank you very much. [applause] >> we have 20 minutes for questions, and we have the mic here in the middle because c-span is here. >> can you hear me? >> there's a microphone there,
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sir. i will wait. you go first. >> i would just like to ask, is there anyone in public life today that you would compare to kissinger, someone who is a realist and thinks of our interests and is not sentimental? >> oh, yeah. there was a comeback -- you know, i have a new introduction in my biography, who is criticize it for not taking idealism and values into account, but then somehow in -- both democrats and republican's, we became a little too, let's invades the world and impose our values. so the comeback of realism is leads by people like colin powell. brent scowcroft, and a lot of people who i think were cautious about some of our overseas as venturism, but understand that both our interests and our
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values have to be woven together, and if i had to pick somebody, i would say what should we doing on a big issue, a realist like colin powell. let me get this gentleman here and i will repeat his question. >> you didn't negligence -- mention in your impressive career of writing that you also were chair, i believe, of the commissions looking into the storage of vietnam agent orange. >> this is the agent orange commission, and i was interested as an historian of vietnam. -- i was too young to be drafted or fight in vietnam, but obviously it's going through a generation, and so when the ford foundation and susan and many other people said, vietnam is now one of our most natural
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allies, but there's one big this stopping it, it's the fact that we left dioxin, we left agent orange at the air base, and we sprayed it all over, and we haven't cleaned it up yet and we have forgotten about it. but in vietnam every day there's kids with birth defects. there's fishermen who can't fish in the lakes because of the dioxin. sometimes the aspen institutes can come in -- the american government could not easily admit all the blame for this and then be liable for every birth defect or every possible, you know, illness or so in vietnam. but the american government obviously wanted to do something. so it couldn't do it directly so we raised money from the ford foundation, the gates foundation, and others. we cleaned up the dioxin and agent orange that was left at the da nang air base and contained it.
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the military and government has under bush and obama, and nobody has to admit fault or say we're liable. let's just clean it up like a good person would do if you have made a mess. and sometimes you just need practical solutions instead of everybody getting on an ideological high horse. we went to the air base, saw the containment projects, and helped with the rehabilitation centers, because instead of saying, we're guilty and pay for everybody who has a birth defect, creating rehabilitation centers and -- you can try to solve problems, not debate them. yes, sir? >> thank you. in view of the extensive interviewing you have done through the years, what checks do you employ when interviewing that someone is not fabricating their story?
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>> yeah. well, that's the mark of old journalism, which is who is telling you the truth and who isn't, and what marks do you employ? we all in life have to talk to people, and sometimes we're misled or not. obviously the two-source rule which is sometimes made fun of but you want to at least get two different versions of a story whenever you can. you also need documentation. i have -- remember talking to my first long interviews for the first book i ever day, the wise men, and this is not an insidious somebody tried to tell me something that isn't true, but john mccloy, and he tells me the story of right before thigh drop the atom bomb, he is in the back row of a cabinet meeting, an assistant secretary of war, and everybody is going along with it, and he says i get up and say to that president here, we should think about
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this. and you want to write it. then you go back to documents -- and he told the story before. and frankly, a lot of my story, it gets better. and finally get back to him telling it in like 1949 to henry stimpson, and it's not, i got up and told the president. it's afterwards i said, and then i found the notes and the dapples of the meeting as well as the diaries of the people in the meeting and he hadn't really gotten up and said that. i think he really believes he did because over the years he kept telling it. but it was afterwards he talked to a few people and they put together a way of looking at providing a warning to the emperor, letting the emperor stay. so there was a coal of truth it to bought it was embellished. you go back though documents, ask other people. certainly i won't name names but there are people as likely mac bundy tells you, there's no such thing as this, and when you go
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back to documents -- there's certain people you feel are telling you the truth -- i don't think i have been fundamentally misled yet. knock on wood. >> how many people have we got in line there? one or two? okay. the last two questions. >> okay. thank you, mrs. isaacson. my question is about your praise for social networking, which seems strange as a journalist from another generation north necessarily -- not necessarily mine. i'm wondering if your afraid of the phone shall del let torous conferences of blogging, as losing out on the visceral connections you made as a young journalist in louisiana being replaced be people who may be handy with google and a pithy one-liner but fail to make the
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commune connection you talked about. >> a good question and actually two parts. i don't consider blogging social networking. blogging is just another way of writing a column and publishing its, whereas social networking is more user generated communities. but both kind of worry me. what worries me in particular, there's a good book about this called, continue tipping towards extremes" in a technology in which there are thousands of places you can go for information, first of all you're not going to make a lot of money blogging social network organize whatever. so you're going tend to express points. you're not actually going to do to da nang. it takes a big organization and money, and so the lone blogger doesn't -- people say why do we need newspapers? we can have journalists.
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well, if it hadn't been for a newspaper or magazine like "time" i never would have gone to any of these places. you need an industrial organization that can help say, okay, we will train this journal journalist, pay his way. so you lose out on robert, and what happens in the blogosphere, and the digital round, including cable tv, when there's hundreds of choices, the way you attract an audience is to be a little louder, more opinionated, more provocative than others. when i was growing up, to show how old i am, i remember a newscaster saying, that's the way it, walter cronkite, and he had to try to get at least a third of the population watching him to succeed at cable tv now, whether it's fox news or anything else, you need to get maybe 2% of the nation watching, 3%. so what you do is you go after a hard core audience who would be
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-- who you can excite ideologically rather than try to get a mass audience where you have to sort of not offend people but by offending people you can usually get the 5 or 10% that agree with you, and so you have a much more offensive and antagonistic type of meeta. thirdly, when i was at cnn -- fox was putting on then opinionated talk shows. we were still the leader when i was there but o'riley was coming on no matter what you pay them, it's a lot cheaper paying a talk show form mat than having christian am man pure in tehran. i still tried to have report news at cnn be the core of it,
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with anderson cooper and aaron brown and many others. it is cheaper and its easier to get a solid audience, ahas, by having very strong, opinionated talk shows, and that is not just for cable tv but for the blogosphere as well. in the blogosphere, if you're pithy, great onelineres, you can get a following just as slur as if you scraped up your money and wend and covered what is happening now in afghanistan. so that worries me as well. what's the ante dote? one is what i talk about at the end of the speech. if we had a system would people could pay for does not always but points will be free because opinions prolive rate on the web. if high-quality journalism, people could bet paid for it on the web, you wouldn't need a
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whole lot of people. 50 million people go to "the new york times" web sites. if one-fifth of them played -- you can have a golden age of journalism if good reporting journalism were valued, people would pay for and it he had a mindset and system that allowed people to pay for it. i do also think we have to have a see site -- society that doesn't get quite as polarized. talk radio, the internet, has become polarizing, and then people go in the cul-de-sacs, on the internet, where their vies are reinforced because they're talking to listening to people with their own views and note having to listen to walter cronkite. secondly they go to their own end of the talk radio dial and their views are reinforced. so these are trends that need to be countered, but there's a deep
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desire in most americans for real news, reliable information, and, frankly, for rational discourse, and in the market if there's a demand for something there will be that something. we just have to hope to find a way to pay for it. thanks. i think we have one last gentleman here. >> yes. i love your book on einstein. thank you for that. >> he is a really cool dude. >> recently i was watching c-span, there was a woman on, temple grandan, and she has written widely and she is an expert on a number of topics, she has aspergers, and she said a einstein almost certainly had it. >> i addressed that in any book a little bit. i do not think that those of us who are not doctors, and even those who are doctors can diagnosis somebody a hundred years later. i do think that einstein was
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very slow in learning how to talk as a child, so slow they consulted a doctor and his nickname was the dopey juan. he didn't think verbally. he didn't think, you know in words. so he thought in pictures. he was always doing thought experiments in his head. what you and i call day dreaming. but if your einstein you call them thought experiments, and that visual imagination allowed item see math mall matt cal equations as the good lord's brush stroke. he could picture a concept. he could picture maxwell's equations and how they formed the right way, and why no matter what you're doing that wave is going travel at a certain speed. and pictures people in motion and they sigh a lightning strike, one is in motion and one is not. one seems simultaneous to the
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other, and that's where you get relativity, time is relative, depending on your state of motion. the reason i say that is because maybe that verbal learning able wasn't a handicap, wasn't a disable, just a different way of learning things, and one of the thing is have learned, bill gates is very, very an analytical, or bill clinton goes over the emotional scale, and we're all very different. and when we talk about our education system, and we don't necessarily need to label everything and category rise it to say, different people learn in different ways, and actually some -- there will be there disables and also some abilities that come from each of those things. so whether or not he had add or as -- aspergers or w -


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